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French woman won’t be charged with causing flight diversion to Bangor International Airport

Posted May 23, 2012, at 2:25 p.m.
Last modified May 24, 2012, at 1:09 p.m.

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Passengers aboard US Airways Flight 787 de-plane on the tarmac at Bangor International Airport on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. A woman claiming to have an explosive device implanted in her body was removed from the plane.
Passengers aboard US Airways Flight 787 de-plane on the tarmac at Bangor International Airport on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. A woman claiming to have an explosive device implanted in her body was removed from the plane.

BANGOR, Maine — The French citizen accused of causing a US Airways jet to be diverted to Bangor on Tuesday will not be charged, U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II said Wednesday after Lucie Zeeko Marigot, 41, appeared before a federal judge.

Marigot, who was born in Cameroon and is married to a French citizen, will be turned over to the section of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that handles deportation, Delahanty said at an impromptu press conference after Marigot’s brief court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk. Marigot will be connected with personnel at US Airways and returned to France, he said.

Technically, Marigot will be refused entry into the United States by U.S. Border Protection and Customs officers at Bangor International Airport, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney James McCarthy, who worked on her case.

“When passengers on commercial flights are refused entry into the country, it is the responsibility of the commercial carrier to see that they are returned to the country from which the flight originated,” McCarthy said.

Marigot was flying to the United States to seek medical attention but had not made appointments with physicians, according to Jon Haddow, the Bangor attorney who represented her at the hearing. She had surgery in France and seemed to be concerned that some kind of “medical hardware” might have been left behind, he said after the hearing.

“She sent a note to the pilot thinking she might get some medical help once the plane landed,” Haddow said.

Marigot was taken into custody Tuesday by the FBI but was never formally charged, Delahanty said Wednesday.

She was traveling from Paris to North Carolina when she handed the note to a flight attendant claiming that she had a surgically implanted device, prompting concerns about possible terrorism.

Through court officer Bert Cyr, who agreed to act as her interpreter, Marigot apologized for causing such a stir.

“She wishes to apologize to the court and this country,” Cyr told Kravchuk. “She didn’t realize in writing this note that it would be misunderstood. She loves the country and would like to have stayed.”

Marigot was dressed in bluejeans embroidered with flowers and a long-sleeved white shirt. She appeared nervous and afraid, but apologetic, in court.

The consequences of Marigot’s actions were unclear Wednesday. While she might be placed on a “no fly” list or banned from re-entering the U.S. for a period of time, McCarthy said he did not know if either of those things would happen.

When the plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, it was the correct decision to divert the flight to Bangor, given the circumstances that were known at the time, Delahanty said in a press release.

“Marigot had given a note to the flight attendant along with a book authored by her that details her personal story,” Delahanty said in the press release, which was issued Wednesday afternoon after Marigot’s court appearance. “Both the note and the book were in French. The note sought help from President and Mrs. Obama and the American people.

“The note stated that she was ‘simply a victim of a group of doctors’ and that she had ‘an object in her body that is out of my control,’” he continued in the press release. “When the flight attendant asked whether the object could hurt her or others, she replied that she did not know. An examination by two doctors on board determined that she had no visible scars indicating any kind of implant.”

Delahanty declined Wednesday to answer questions about whether Marigot was X-rayed for such devices once she was taken into custody in Bangor.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, was briefed earlier this week on the incident by Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole. Her office confirmed Thursday that Marigot had a CT scan while in Bangor.

There is no evidence the plane was ever in danger, officials said Tuesday. However, the FBI and Homeland Security Department warned airlines last summer that terrorists are considering surgically hiding bombs inside humans to evade airport security.

After the flight arrived in Bangor, a search of the plane and baggage revealed no explosives or dangerous items, Delahanty said in the press release. The continuing investigation revealed that the plane and its crew and passengers were never in any danger.

It may not have seemed that way when two F-15 fighters scrambled to escort Boeing Flight 787, with 179 passengers and nine crew members aboard, to Bangor International Airport, where it landed shortly after noon Tuesday. The Transportation Security Administration issued a statement saying the passenger’s suspicious behavior warranted the unscheduled stop.

“We saw lots of police and federal customs people take a woman off the plane in handcuffs,” said passenger Stuart Frankel of Baltimore. “People were amazed at what was going on. We didn’t know what was happening until we landed.”

The flight was about 40 minutes away from Bangor when local officials were alerted. After landing, the Boeing 767 taxied to a remote part of the airport, where law enforcement officials removed the passenger, Tony Caruso, acting airport manager, said Tuesday.

Frankel said passengers had been advised to keep their shades down during a movie, so they didn’t realize fighter jets had been dispatched to intercept the flight. There were a couple of calls on the overhead speakers for doctors, but that didn’t seem especially unusual, he said.

Eventually, the pilot advised them that the jet needed to land for fuel in Maine.

William Milam from Richmond, Va., said he had spoken French with the woman and helped her get her luggage into an overhead bin.

After the woman was removed from the flight, passengers were informed that they would have to leave while the jet was checked for explosives, Milam said. “This is like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “I’m thinking drugs. And they’re thinking explosives.”

Several passengers said they had noticed that particular passenger because of her slight stature and big eyelashes. They said she attracted attention by walking up and down the aisle throughout the flight.

Several hours after landing in Bangor, the plane was cleared to continue to its final destination in Charlotte, N.C., and arrived 3½ hours late.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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